Life is a Circus

When Trash Becomes Treasure

The Nelson Molina story.

Nelson Molina is a man with an eye – and an ear – for treasure. An employee of the New York City Department of Sanitation for over 30 years, Nelson has become famous for his ability to find interesting items in the trash thrown out by his fellow New Yorkers and give them a new life. “Treasures in the Trash,” an award-winning short documentary about Nelson, shows him shaking the bags he’s collected to listen for tell-tale signs of a neglected treasure inside.  

Over the course of his career, Nelson’s collection of rescued items grew to over 40,000 pieces. All of them are stored in a Department of Sanitation garage in East Harlem – an unofficial museum to discarded beauty, called “Treasures in the Trash.” 

Nelson’s knack for finding valuable things in the trash started when he was a kid growing up a low-income family in New York. He quickly realized that in today’s disposable society, many people discarded goods that were either still perfectly usable, or just needed a little love to keep them going. He would fix up the items he found and bring them to his siblings. “I was Santa Claus to my brothers and sisters,” he says.  

Nelson is a true original, with an ability to find and preserve beauty that’s been overlooked by nearly everyone else. That creative and artistic impulse led him to create a collection that he shares with his fellow sanitation workers, and that could one day be opened to the public at large. Looking at these items through his eyes, we learn to recognize the craftsmanship, design, history and human emotion that these objects represent. He helps us see that lingering artifacts of the human heart and soul can be found even in the trash. 

You liked it? WATCH the series. Enjoy!

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